If you’ve got an itch sometimes you’ve just got to scratch it… even if it’s in a hard-to-reach place! And in my personal quest to play all the true links golf course in the British Isles that was exactly the case with Castletown.
It’s sad I know, but I’ve got a Great Britain & Ireland map on my office wall with a pin pushed into all the venues still to play and the one that occupied Castletown Golf Links, on the Isle of Man, has been bugging me quite some time now.
Set in a truly stunning location on Langness Peninsula the links at Castletown is just about as raw, rugged and rustic as they come (never underestimate the value of the 3 Rs!) It is a style of golf that suits my eye and lends itself to pure links golf, often played along the ground and where missing on the wrong side is treacherous but equally fun in terms of recovery. Situated mostly above sea-level the course is flanked by a couple of bays on two sides and dramatic cliffs on the third; a stretch of coastline which if not the better of Turnberry then certainly its match. Because you are mostly some way above sea level the panorama is not only exceptional but also varied.
Rabbit holes litter a few of the fairways, dry stone walls come into play, rocks protrude from the links at times. All magic stuff and befitting of the surrounds. The land is quick draining and with wispy fescue and clads of heather the scene is set for great golf.
Not dissimilar to the island’s “Three Legs” symbol the links plays to three distinct limbs. The first tee and 18th green, located close to the clubhouse and an abandoned hotel, are on a protrusion of land jutting out into the sea. Meanwhile, at the furthest point the seventh hole extends back towards town whilst the 15th green is the end-point of the course towards the south.
The routing of the course is tantalising good with several high points early on, a little dip in the middle before a grandstand finish of the highest order.
I was particular impressed with the majority of the first ten holes. The first is an awkward little son of a bitch…. but all the better for it! With a wind whipping off the left the hole plays as a 253-yard par-four and should be an early birdie opportunity, and at the very worst a safe par, but the raised knob of a green can cause innumerable problems.
Holes six through to ten are absolutely rock solid in terms of design with lots of low-level ground contouring, fine green sites and rollickingly good golf to be had. The first every Derby horserace was held on this section of the course – most likely the 7th hole.
The pick of the bunch may just be the short 8th – the first par-three we encounter – its plateau green location is so good it doesn’t require a single bunker. I also enjoyed the ninth with its hogback fairway and an approach which feeds in from the right.
There’s nothing particular wrong with holes 11 through to 15. In fact taken individually they are all very good holes with some excellent green complexes and putting surfaces but as a run of holes they lack the magic which the rest of the course has in abundance. They are mostly played on flatter land, or in the case of the 14th and 15th slightly uphill, which into the wind did feel like a bit of slog.
All is quickly forgiven as we turn for home and play three holes along some of the most impressive coastline you will encounter and this makes for a closing stretch which is just about unmatched.
Castletown is probably not visited by enough people to raise its stock in the golf course ranking world. The top 100 website – of which I am a big admirer – ranks it as number one of the Isle of Man but it does not make their top 100 GB&I list and because it understandably does not fall into the English links section it is difficult to see just how close it comes to making it. It can’t be far away though and in my opinion I would probably have it in there so hopefully it’s knocking on the door and next time it may just squeak in.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
Date: June 13, 2019